Why Talk About Movies?

I often find myself in the position of defending the choice to dissect movies. This is a position that baffles me, but I’ve been told by more than one person that, “it’s just a movie and you’re thinking about it too hard.” I’ve had a few people tell me that they, “just enjoy a movie for what it is,” and one person simultaneously chide me for analyzing movies too much and say that it’s OK for people to be different. I feel a little like he tipped his hand in that action.


Perhaps to some extent a movie is just meant to be passively taken in – to wash over you like dry hot air and then recede – but at the same time, movies are expensive. So many movies I’m going to discuss have broken, in terms of cost to make, the 100 million dollar barrier, many have broken the 200 million dollar barrier, and at least one has broken the 300 million dollar barrier. This is a lot of money for no intent greater than letting moving color and sound wash across you for a few hours (upwards of three in some cases, or hundreds of hours in my case). I tend to think that people only spend that kind of money if they’re really trying to tell you something: not all messages are equal, not all are equitable, not all are genuine, and not all are worth being heard. But at double and triple digit millions, there are most definitely messages.


Sometimes those messages are blatant, rude, and unfulfilling. The first Transformers movie, for example, had so much artless product placement (transforming X-Boxes and Mountain Dew machines) that its message is blatantly shouted at us from the digital: BUY THIS SHIT! Other movies have messages embedded in their double digit millions that are subtler. They may take greater analysis and often offer up a more rewarding experience for having been analyzed.


The first Star Trek movie, Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979), is a movie I’m on-nails excited to get to in my list. It’s one of my favorite movies ever: I still listen to the soundtrack regularly, and somehow, a movie as impenetrably boring as it managed to grab a tiny kid by the short hairs firm enough that I have specific memories of watching Klingon Birds of Prey get zapped by weird electricity. I used to walk around in my little kid world and wonder what it would look like for things around me to get zapped: a little glowing ball landing on the nose of my grandpa’s stuffed coyote, electric coils wrapping around it until it disappeared. Way too many years (at least fifteen) passed between viewings, but when I again saw it in a room full of friends, they left one by one until finally one looked at me and said, “How could you stand this as a little kid?” Because it’s saying things!


How do we dissect the messages of a movie like this (something I won’t do here, for if I did, why do it later?)? Is it worth it? Is it fair to say that one should simply “enjoy a movie for what it is” and leave it at that? Movies (well, all media) are constantly communicating with us, but the messages are often too disappointingly jumbled or simple to be memorable or insightful. I can’t blame someone for developing an almost Stockholm approach to movie viewing by wrapping the blanket of It Is What It Is around themselves. But I can’t. In short, it’s not a fair approach to movies, to their messages, and to the people behind those messages. To simply watch a movie for what it is and then forbid further discussion is to deprive these messages of meaningful context and dialogue; they simply exist for a short period in a nebulous RAM space, like a copied piece of email text waiting to be overwritten by the next equally valid piece of text. Though the messages, “don’t forget milk,” and, “you got the job” carry vastly different qualitative and quantitative messages, the RAM doesn’t care. My concern – the reason why it’s good for me and good for movies to do this – is that we become like that RAM when we don’t carefully consider the messages. Everything becomes disposable: each movie becomes its own event isolated by a boundary of meaninglessness waiting for the next wall of movie to push it out of existence and into the void. Or worse  than meaningless, each movie becomes insulated meaning, a unit that only has meaning in respect to itself in a gently spiraling ouroboros of diminishing information. Taking a movie’s meaning apart allows it to be compared with itself triangulating parts A and B to find part C, then further triangulating those pieces with pieces from a different movie entirely to point in new directions.


People might tell you that what we do is solipsistic, pointless, selfish, or elitist. Perhaps it’s some sprinkling of all those things, but only if we keep it to ourselves and refuse to let anyone else in on it. Not only do I encourage whoever might be reading to do this, but I encourage those unknown readers to encourage others to join them.


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